New Study Finds Hope for Autism Treatment in Stem Cell Therapy

This study is just the start of uncovering a possible cure for autism, and more research needs to be done.

It is estimated that one in every 68 children in the United States has some form of autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sadly, thirty percent never learn to speak, and many who have early behavioral interventions still struggle on a daily basis. Without an FDA-approved medication to improve symptoms of autism, parents and doctors are always looking for a solution.
A new study may give these families some newfound hope. Twenty-five autistic children age two to six-years-old participated in a cutting edge study at Duke University to see whether a transfusion of their own umbilical cord blood containing rare stem cells could help treat their autism. Each child received 1 billion to 2 billion stem cells through an IV in their arm or leg.
Before the children began the cord blood infusion, they were evaluated based on several behavioral and functional tests focused on expressive vocabulary, eye-tracking, and attention to social stimuli. Additionally, they underwent MRIs and EEGs to track their brain activity. Parents also completed written surveys about their child’s behavior. The children were evaluated again six and 12 months following the infusion.
The results were recently published, highlighting some positive findings. More than two-thirds of the children showed significant improvements from their autistic symptoms. Some children who were not speaking very much had major improvement in their vocabulary and speech. Many children were able to easily play and hold more meaningful conversations. Finally, some children had less repetitive behaviors than they did before the stem cell therapy.
A recent CNN article featured a family who has witnessed the spectacular results of the study in their autistic daughter. Seven-year-old Gracie used to throw tantrums and even kick her own sister. But since she underwent the stem cell therapy, she has been a completely different child. Although she was diagnosed as being on the mild to moderate autism scale, her parents said that the disorder consumed about 75 percent of their daily routine. After the study, that time dropped to only ten percent. She now attends a regular school and is thriving there. The family is thrilled with the changes they have seen in her behavior, and her quality of life has been dramatically improved.
This study is just the start of uncovering a possible cure for autism, and more research needs to be done. This initial trial did have its limitations; it was an uncontrolled safety study and open so that the doctors and families knew that the therapy was being administered.
A more traditional, larger second trial with oversight by the FDA is currently underway. It has a placebo and involves 165 autistic children ranging in age from two to eight-years-old.
During the phase II study, the children on their first visit receive a cord blood infusion (either their own or from a donor) or they get a placebo. They also undergo a behavioral assessment and brain monitoring. On their second visit six months later, they will have another infusion with the preparation that they did not receive the first time. Researchers will monitor them for over a year to evaluate any behavioral improvements.
To follow the results of the study, visit the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development.

Why Parenthood Is the Best Thing for an Introvert    

Introverted parents, rejoice! There is nothing better than a kid to keep potentially awkward social scenarios at bay.

It’s a great time to be an introvert. 

Susan Cain is quietly revolutionizing what the world thinks about the kids who don’t raise their hands in class. The shame once associated with being reflective, solitary, and the best friend to a few rather than the notorious friend of many is slowly eroding as parents, teachers, and employers are learning that introversion is not a bad word, not a character flaw to be addressed or screened for. 

The spectrum of introversion and extroversion is wide, and there are many degrees within. “Ambivert,” for instance, is that magical marriage of gregariousness and contemplation under which many people qualify. Only an exceptional few are 100 percent verted on one side of the scale or the other.

If you’re wondering where you fall, here’s a simple test. If you hear the following statements, or statements of the same ilk, you’ll be able to appreciate just how useful your role as parent can be in letting your introverted freak flag fly.

What do you mean you don’t want to go for drinks? It’s Friday.

Diedre! Say something! You are the only one here who hasn’t weighed in on whether or not Katy Perry could beat Taylor Swift in dressage.

Wait…what do you mean ‘you’re reading’? Like, a book? That’s it? Not like ‘reading the cookie recipe for Jimmy’s birthday party while you vacuum,’ or ‘reading Twitter on your way to Jeff’s art opening so that you can be a part of every conversation there,’ or ‘reading your Facebook post from two years ago today so that you can cleverly re-post it to your timeline to show everyone how much more wonderful and interesting your life has become in those two years’?   

So, for those of you with whom this resonates, rejoice! Thanks to Ms. Cain’s efforts, you are (or are soon to be) a valued member of society again. You can channel your resentment for being singled out by your group-project-loving teachers as awkward at best or troublingly isolated at worst into an aggressive assault of introversion in your current social circle, workplace, and even family.

You can expect an adjustment period from your friends and family as they normalize introversion. After all, we are indoctrinated as infants when the babbling or rambunctious baby gets more coos and attention than the baby who quietly observes. For this, they can hardly be blamed. You happen to have the perfect aide to navigate your introverted way into an extroverted world: your kid.

Consider these scenarios:

In social situations

You’ve been invited to your cousin’s fiancé’s bridal shower. To save yourself from group games involving toilet paper gowns and touching strangers, bring the kid!

(The risk of committing a major bride-to-be invitee faux pas is real without asking permission to do so, but weigh your options: would you rather be chasing a toddler out of the room or making the bride-to-be’s mother and aunt uncomfortable with your running commentary through the gift opening ceremony? Ooo…a cutting board. I have one of those. A little bit of scorn doesn’t seem so bad.)

In the workplace

You arrive to meetings precisely on time as to avoid the small talk in the minutes in which your colleagues are gathering. On the occasion in which four of the six of your meeting mates are late, you find yourself in an incomplete group with nothing but time.

Though terrifying, controlling the conversation is vital for your particular brand of introvert – the kind who thinks and writes with eloquence, but struggles to form complete sentences when speaking. You know the three of you will not sit in silence, so you have the opportunity to set the tone by mentioning your baby. 

Well, my Sophie was likewise cavalier with my time this morning. We strolled into daycare 15 minutes late, so she missed breakfast with the babies. Someone will then ask a simple, direct question – How old is Sophie now? – and, after answering, you can talk about any number of the baby’s latest adventures in that universal language that resonates with anyone who is a parent or who was parented.

This strategy eliminates the fear of the conversation topic for which you might have something good to contribute, but know you will inevitably stumble through.

With family

Your aunt has a day off work and shows up at your door wondering if you’d like to get lunch. This one is easy. You thank her, but cite a week of sleepless nights – your toddler must be experiencing another sleep regression – and fib about taking a mid-day nap instead.

To all the introverted parents, feel no remorse or shame in manipulating your way out of social scenarios. Parenthood is an essential tool for an introvert in these quietly exciting times. 

How to Raise Kids Who Value Biking and Walking

Walking and biking for transportation are great ways to save money, get exercise, be outside, and spend time together as a family.

“In my day, we walked a mile uphill both ways in the snow” is the ultimate cliche for cranky parents to compare themselves to kids these days. But walking and biking have huge benefits beyond the ability to complain later on.

Active transportation establishes lifelong healthy habits for life, builds relationships with neighbors, minimizes greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, and increases kids’ independence. While our society advertises a minivan as the ultimate family vehicle, it is actually possible to shift trips away from the car.

For example, this family of six does almost all our traveling by bike. One of my friends with three little kids doesn’t even own a car!

If you’re interested in making the shift, here are some tips to get you started:

Normalize and talk up modes of transportation other than the car

It’s sad but true – some people look down on those who don’t own a car, either by necessity or choice. Don’t let that bother you. Never talk about walking or biking as second-rate. Instead, talk it up with enthusiasm!

Little kids in particular see walking and biking as taking a special trip. My three-year-old has a meltdown when I’ve promised to walk and end up driving instead.

Introduce it when they’re young and get the right equipment

The earlier you introduce biking and walking, the more normal it is. But getting the right equipment is essential.

If you plan on mostly walking, get a stroller designed to handle bumpy and narrow sidewalks. An ideal one will have thick tires, three wheels instead of four, sturdy construction, and a good brake. It’s also useful if it folds up easily so you can bring it on a bus or put it in a corner of a busy restaurant. We have the Britax B-Agile, which we’ve loved for every one of the more than 100 miles we’ve put on it.

If you’re interested in biking, you can install a child seat on your bike or use a trailer. If the bike will be a true car replacement, cargo bikes and bakfiets (box bikes) are far more stable than regular seats and provide a more pleasant experience than trailers. In addition, see if there’s a Kidical Mass ride in your area. This nation-wide movement of community rides is dedicated to supporting and encouraging family biking.

Start short

Given that those first experiences will influence how likely your family is to try it again, make them pleasant. Don’t start with a two-mile walk on a blazing hot day or a seven-mile bike ride. Pick a short trip to somewhere fun, like an ice cream shop. As a kid, I regularly biked with my parents to a local sandwich shop, and those are some of my fondest childhood memories.

Enjoy the trip

One of the benefits of not driving places is that you can pay attention to your surroundings. Use a walk or bike ride to point out the beauty of flowers or clouds in the sky. Wave hi to your neighbors who are out gardening or mowing the lawn. If you live in a city, spend a little time window shopping.

Make multi-modal transportation safer in your neighborhood

Unfortunately, walking, biking, and taking public transit is simply not possible in all neighborhoods and cities. Many places have minimal infrastructure, like sidewalks or bike lanes, making it unsafe and uncomfortable to walk or bike.

If you have time, write to your town or county council to request an increase in support for multi-modal transportation. You can also support a local or national pedestrian or bicycle advocacy group, like Safe Routes to School.

Creating safe places to walk and bike is especially important because not everyone has a choice of whether or not to drive a car, including parents. More than half of bicycle trips are by people in the lowest 40 percent of income level.

Walking and biking for transportation are great ways to save money, get exercise, be outside, and spend time together as a family. With these tips, I hope that you’re able to raise kids who know how to get around on their own power.

Let Them Sleep: Why High Schools Should Start Later

Teens often experience a natural shift in their sleep patterns. This shift toward staying awake later is at odds with most school start times.

Teenagers who are night owls are more likely to have difficulty regulating their behavior, a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports.

Adolescents who were sleepy during the day and more alert in the evening hours ranked low on measures of self-regulation – the ability to alter behavior, thoughts, and emotions depending on the situation. Learning how to self-regulate is an important skill for teenagers to develop, and with chronic fatigue preventing it, the answer may be pushing school start times back to a more reasonable hour.

The study by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital and Tulane University aimed to find out if chronotype (the tendency to be a “night owl” or a “morning lark”), daytime sleepiness, and number of hours slept per night were associated with the ability to self-regulate.

A sample of 2000 12- to 18-year-old students were asked if they had problems similar to the ones in statements such as “I don’t plan ahead for school assignments,” “I get upset over small events,” or, “It bothers me when I have to deal with changes.” Participants who reported that they often experienced these or similar occurrences were rated as having less self-regulation.

Study participants were also asked questions about the number of hours slept per night, how awake they felt at different points in the day, if they ever fell asleep during school, and if they had difficulty staying awake during the day.

The researchers found that students who were more alert in the evenings and sleepier during the daytime were more likely to have difficulty self-regulating. The sheer number of hours slept at night, however, was not associated with self-regulation.

Adolescents require eight to 10 hours of sleep a night, but the average high school student gets far less. By their senior year in high school, 75% of students are sleeping fewer than eight hours per night, significantly less than the 8.5 – 9.5 hours a night recommended by the National Sleep Foundation.

This widespread fatigue among adolescents has its consequences, with the AAP regarding it as a public health issue. A lack of sleep can have serious health consequences beyond simply feeling tired. Sleep loss has a significant impact on mental health, with teens who are overtired being at a greater risk for depression and suicidal ideation. Insufficient sleep can also increase the risk of obesity, and puts teenagers at a greater risk for driving accidents where drowsiness is a major contributing factor.

And, as this study suggests, a lack of sleep can also have an impact on a teen’s ability to regulate their behavior and emotions.

Learning self-regulation in adolescence relates to better outcomes in adulthood, including better physical health, financial success, less criminality, and less substance abuse. With a lack of sleep impairing students’ capabilities, teenagers aren’t best equipped to manage their thoughts, emotions, and behavior at a time when their actions may begin to have life-long consequences.

So should we just start making teenagers go to bed earlier? It might not help. Researchers found that the number of hours slept per night was not associated with better self-regulation, however, having night owl tendencies did mean more difficulty controlling emotions and behavior.

This correlation means that teenagers who are at their most alert in the evening experience circadian misalignment when forced to start school early in the morning. With teenagers experiencing a natural shift in their sleep patterns, many cannot fall asleep before 11 p.m., meaning there’s no way they can achieve the recommended amount of sleep and be at school by 7 a.m.

When high school and middle schools start before 8:30 a.m., teenagers are at their lowest level of alertness. Waking early likewise causes them to miss out on rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is critical for knowledge retention. Trying to squeeze extra hours of learning into the early morning could actually be causing teenagers to learn less overall.

Nationwide, only 14 percent of high schools start after 8:30. Opponents of moving school start times later cite difficulty in managing bus schedules, after-school jobs and sports, and parents’ work schedules. But the benefits of pushing start times are clear.

High schools that push start times back see significant improvement in student achievement. A study of five school districts in three states with later school start times found that students, unsurprisingly, were more likely to sleep eight hours or more each night. The later start times also led to improvement in school attendance, reduced tardiness, and higher national achievement test scores. Students were also more likely to report that they were in good health, and less likely to report being depressed or to use alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

According to Start School Later, a non-profit organization that advocates for later start times, early morning classes also may play a hand in widening the achievement gap between low and high income students. Public schools are more likely than private schools to start before 8 a.m., and parents with inflexible working schedules are often unable to make accommodations for a child who overslept and missed the bus.

Teenagers are at a point in life where they’re given more freedom and responsibility than ever before. Learning to navigate these new opportunities can be challenging even under ideal circumstances. When you add in the hurdle of chronic sleep deprivation caused by early school start times, it’s easy to see why teens would struggle to regulate their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

While moving school start times later than 8:30 might require the shuffling around of schedules and a good deal of logistical rearranging, it could be just the thing teenagers need to improve their physical and mental health.